MANY FOREIGN diplomats who have served in Israel maintain an interest in the country even after they return home or are posted elsewhere. Former Czech ambassador Daniel Kumermann continues to keep abreast of developments in Israel via the Internet edition of The Jerusalem Post. He was pleasantly surprised to read recently of the pro-Israel stance taken by Jana Hybaskova, who headed the European Parliament's observer team to the Palestinian primaries.
When Czechoslovakia freed itself from the yoke of Communism in 1991 and Kumermann, who happens to be Jewish, applied to work in the Foreign Ministry, Hybaskova did all she could to keep him out. For her, he represented the change from the previously pro-Arab policy to a more balanced, if not pro-Israel, line with which, says Kumermann, "she heartily disagreed."
She prevented him from getting a position on the Israel desk, and instead hired someone with Arab sympathies for the job. At the time, Kumermann didn't mind all that much, as he wanted to be a journalist; a week later, in fact, he got the job offer he had been hoping for. Despite Hybaskova's antagonism towards him, he did eventually wind up in the Foreign Ministry, and in the country in which he wanted to serve. He says he never thought Hybaskova would change - he's glad that she did, but he's not altogether convinced of her sincerity.
NONAGENARIAN NEW Yorker Stanley Batkin, who has been coming to Israel at least twice a year for nearly 60 years, this time came with a 15-member entourage that included family and friends. Batkin usually travels with his wife Donna and hosts several luncheons and dinners during his stay to meet with as many Israeli friends as possible. But he is known not only for his hospitality and widespread philanthropy, but also for the fact that he still drives, has a huge collection of Israeli art, and a penchant for photography.
Seldom seen without a camera, Batkin's focus is on heads and shoulders. Over the years he has taken tens of thousands of photos, including portraits of all the artists whose works are in his collection, and his photographs have won several prizes. A former chairman of the American Friends of the Tel Aviv Museum, and now Honorary Chairman, Batkin was prevailed upon by the museum's director and chief curator Mordechai Omer to have an exhibition of his photographs of Israeli artists.
Many of the invitees are art collectors like Batkin, and their experience of gallery openings prompted them to arrive an hour ahead of the official opening so they could properly view the photographs and exchange memories about the artists - several of whom are no longer living.
One of the guests who apparently had not made her acquisitions directly from the artists' studios or their one-man shows was thrilled to see the faces of the people whose works grace her walls. Omer was surprised when he saw what he termed "the panorama of Israeli artists," all of whom were relaxed and most of whom were smiling in their portraits.
The secret was simple, Batkin told him. He asked all his subjects, including top-notch dignitaries, a single question: "How is your sex life?" It caught people so unawares that they broke into an instant grin and the ice was broken. Omer confessed that when he saw the photograph of famed Jerusalem artist Anna Ticho, who died in 1980, he wept, because he had never seen a photograph of her before.
Batkin said he had done many things in his life, but the most enjoyable was coming to Israel and being involved with so many different people in so many different ways.
Among those who came from America for the opening were his daughter Gloria and her husband Bob, current AFTAM chairman Mel Atlas and his wife Doris, and Karen Franklin, director of the Judaica Museum in Riverdale, where Batkin's work has been exhibited twice.
AMONG THE portraits in Batkin's exhibition is one of celebrated sculptor and painter Menashe Kadishman, best known for his signature subject of a sheep's head. Kadishman, 73, is currently having his own retrospective at TAM, and can be seen in the museum plaza almost every night of the week leaning on a bright blue umbrella which he uses as a walking stick, and keeping a watchful eye on those of his creations that are displayed outside. A well-known figure in Tel Aviv who roams around in his underwear, Kadishman wore trousers over his flimsy underpants for his own huge exhibition celebrating half a century of creativity.
SOMEWHAT UPSET at not seeing a photograph of her late husband Moshe Castel in the Batkin exhibition, Bilha Castel was partially mollified when shown the catalogue, which includes all the portraits that Batkin submitted to the Tel Aviv Museum - Castel was not the only great artist who was not accorded space on the wall. Bilha Castel, who relocated from Tel Aviv to Ma'aleh Adumim, is in the process of completing the Castel Museum of Art, which will add to the prestige of Ma'aleh Adumim.
ANY ANNIVERSARY evokes nostalgia. The 50th anniversary of the opening of Accadia in Herzliya, one of the resort hotels in the Dan chain, was doubly nostalgic because it displayed the tourist posters designed by Bezalel Art School students half a century ago for the opening of the Accadia. Some would still be valid today - a fact that brought Dan Hotels deputy chairman Ami Federmann to remark that the occasion was a blending of the past and present.
Among the many guests who came to congratulate the Federmann family on the Accadia's long run of success were Tourism Minister Avraham Hirshson, Chairman of the Bezalel Board of Governors Aharon Dovrat, President of Bezalel Academy Arnon Zuckerman and Director-General of Reshet (one of the Channel Two franchises) Yohanan Tsangan.
WHAT'S IN a name? Plenty if you believe that it's being unduly exploited. Rachel Kremmerman, mother of sexy model and television personality Aya Kremmerman, is a member of the Bezeq board of directors, but most importantly is the daughter of Ya'acov Meridor, who preceded Menachem Begin as commander of the Irgun (and years later was minister for economic planning in Begin's government). Kremmerman, who grew up in the Betar Zionist Youth Movement, is not at all happy that Russian billionaire Arkady Gaydamak, owner of the Jerusalem Betar soccer team, has decided to call his new political party Betar. Kremmerman regards this hijacking of the name as blasphemy and is seriously considering taking the matter to court. What worries her is that she doesn't have Gaydamak's kind of money, and unless she can find others to join her suit, she won't be able to do much but fume.
TWO TOTALLY different sights are grabbing the attention of people in Tel Aviv these days. One is the "herd" of 100 painted fiberglass bulls scattered along Rothschild Boulevard under the aegis of the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange. The other is the Segway pioneers . Among the people using Segway's self-balancing personal transportation are billionaire philanthropist Shari Arison and her husband Ofer Glazer - the couple was seen last weekend testing their new toys. Arison, whose many social welfare interests include the environment, would encourage more people to travel by Segway inside the city with the aim of reducing air pollution.
THE TWO main kiddie shows for Hanukka are both mega productions with mega prices for tickets, ranging from NIS 50 to NIS 150 and averaging out at around NIS 70. There's no point in parents saying they haven't got the money because this is where peer pressure gets really tough.
Ninette Taib is appearing in A Song is Born, while her boyfriend Ran Danker is appearing in the rival but more veteran annual show Festigal, along with Harel Saakat and Yael Bar Zohar.
The highest paid on-stage personality according to Y-net, which has a video preview of the new "Show Me the Money" slot in Good Evening with Guy Pines, is Zvika Hadar, who, before taxes, is getting some NIS 600,000, of which a certain amount will go toward alimony and child support. Next highest paid are Ninette Taib and Yehuda Levi, who are reportedly getting NIS 350,000 each. Surprisingly, Yael Bar Zohar is "making do" with only NIS 200,000, as are Agam Rodberg and Maya Bouskila, while veterans such as Riki Gal and Zvika Pik are doing slightly better with NIS 250,000.
Compared to the others, Yehuda Saado is being grossly underpaid. But since he's a new discovery he's getting only NIS 40,000. If his popularity doesn't fade, he'll be getting a lot more next year. Saado has just completed his first CD and the fans are clamoring. Harel Saakat, who made even less than Saado last year, is back this year on a NIS 300,000 roll.